Monthly Archives: March 2012

Weekly Roundup

Happy Friday to the blogosphere! Here are the best links I found on the Interwebs this week, for your reading pleasure…

Book News

Have I geeked out at you yet about SF&F writer Elizabeth Bear? No? I’ll have to do that, because she’s awesome. In the meantime, she has a new book out this week, Range of Ghosts. It’s epic fantasy inspired by Genghis Khan, and you can read about it in a Big Idea piece on John Scalzi’s blog.

General Geekery and Science

Somebody has re-created what Shakespeare’s works sounded like in the original pronunciation.

Scientists have figured out how to make cyborg snails (aka the mollusc militia).

The New York Times interviews scientist Rachel Graham,  the Jane Goodall of sharks.


Offbeat Home finds a Belgian B&B that belongs in a fantasy novel.

For Writers (and Interested Third Parties)

If you’re writing fantasy or science fiction, Juliette Wade offers some ways to approach measurements in your worldbuilding.

Deborah Biancotti points out that we are all running our own race.

Hope to see you back here on Monday, when I’ll be talking about Queen’s Man, the new science fiction release from KD Sarge at Turtleduck Press. Until then, happy weekend!


The Lucky 7 Meme

The Lucky 7 MemeI’ve got something different for you this week — a snippet of my novel work-in-progress, or WIP. I won’t be doing this often, but memoir writer Elaine Smothers has tagged me in something called the Lucky 7 meme, so I thought I’d share. Update: As I was writing this, I was also tagged by fantasy writer B. A. Matthews. We crossed ships in the night…

Here are the rules:

1. Go to page 77 of your current MS/WIP

2. Go to line 7

3. Copy down the next 7 lines, sentences, or paragraphs, and post them as they’re written .

4. If your WIP doesn’t have 77 pages, you can post 7 lines, sentences, or paragraphs from page 7.

5. Tag 7 other writers and let them know.

Here’s my contribution, an excerpt from a YA science fiction novel set on a spaceship. Since page 77 happens to be the a short page, you only get 7 lines.

Ashmita struggled to get her thoughts in order. “Miz X doesn’t own…what did you call them?…drones. But she does essentially own people – that’s where Peter and I came from. Spencer, what does it take to make a drone?”

He looked up at her and swallowed. “Anybody can be made into one. It requires brain surgery and steroids. Expensive, but not difficult. And the profit is huge.”

“And what then? Can they think? Can the procedure be reversed?” she asked, already suspecting she knew the answer.

Since this novel is still in the first draft stage and I’m planning on sending it through the traditional publishing route, that’s all you’ll see of it for quite a while. Hope you enjoyed the sneak peek.

For the next Lucky 7, I’m tagging:

1. KD Sarge

2. Kit Campbell

3. Erin Kendall

4. C. S. McClellan

5. NEW: K.A. Levingston

…help, I’ve run out of writers I know who haven’t done this meme yet! If you’d like to play, just leave a comment to that effect and I’ll add you to the list.

See you on Friday with my roundup of the best links of the week!

Defining Steampunk: Books

This week, we’re returning to the topic of steampunk. (See my post Defining Steampunk. For more, see the transcript of this week’s #steampunkchat on Twitter, available here.) I wanted to delve a little deeper into the part I know best — steampunk as a literary genre — and talk about where it begins and ends.

Girl Genius Color Omnibus Vol. 1

The cover of one of the Girl Genius books.

I’ll start with a rough, working definition: speculative fiction based roughly on the nineteenth century but written much later, often with the purpose of re-examining the assumptions and imbalances of the time — hence the “punk” part of the name. In practice, this often includes such visual tropes as steam or clockwork technology, airships/dirigibles/blimps, goggles, and corsets (in a Europe- or Western-based world). To see what this looks like, I highly recommend Girl Genius, a graphic novel series by Phil and Kaja Foglio (more about this below).

Some of the earliest steampunk writers are K. W. Jeter — who is credited with coining the term — and Michael Moorcock, writing in the ’70s and ’80s. One of the early defining works of the genre is The Difference Engine by William Gibson and Bruce Sterling. They posit an alternate timeline in which punch-card computers and steam-powered carriages have been adopted into general use, with political and social changes to match. Because Gibson and Sterling are/were cyberpunk writers, the scientific underpinnings are strong enough that I would call their book science fiction.

Other steampunk novels based on a somewhat recognizable Earth, both science fiction and fantasy-leaning, include:

  • Gail Carriger‘s Parasol Protectorate, where Victorian England includes werewolves, vampires, dirigibles, and mad science
  • S. M. Peters‘s Whitechapel Gods, where a chunk of London has been cut off and evolved into its own miniature steam-powered society controlled by all-powerful beings
  • Philip Pullman‘s The Golden Compass (or Northern Lights, if you’re not in North America) where scientists at Oxford study things that don’t exist in our version of the world
  • Scott Westerfeld‘s Leviathan series, where World War I is re-imagined as a battle between those who use mechanical weapons and those who use biology-based weapons

On the flip side are novels set on other worlds that resemble nineteenth-century Earth in some ways, but whose geography is unrecognizable. I would call these fantasy rather than science fiction. For example:

  • Phil and Kaja Foglio‘s Girl Genius (link above), where England exists, but isn’t the focus, which enables the authors to include everything from giant robots to ice maidens to constructed “people” to lots and lots of airships
  • China Miéville‘s Perdido Street Station, which involves a fantasy city that is chock-full of fantastical races, but also has rudimentary computers, airships, and cable cars

You can probably see by now that there are no clear lines around steampunk literature as it bleeds into other subgenres. (In other words, it’s a fuzzy set.) The Golden Compass and Perdido Street Station are solidly in the fantasy corner, and arguably not steampunk at all. Gail Carriger’s series is also paranormal romance. Whitechapel Gods and Perdido Street Station involve powerful, unknowable beings that could pass for Lovecraftian Elder Gods.

Further from the epicentre (if steampunk has such a thing), you might find alternate-history novels such as:

  • Ian R. MacLeod‘s The Light Ages, which is set in an alternate version of Britain’s Industrial Age in which everything is driven by a substance called “aether”
  • Naomi Novik‘s Temeraire series, which features the Napoleonic Wars with the addition of dragons
  • Patricia Wrede‘s Mairelon the Magician and Magician’s Ward, which feature a Regency-era London where magic is real

What do you think? If you’re not familiar with steampunk, which part sounds like it might tickle your fancy? If you are familiar, what corners of it am I missing? (For starters, I haven’t mentioned anything based in other parts of the world.) Where do you see steampunk ending and other subgenres beginning?

Weekly Roundup

We survived another week! (Almost. I am writing this on Thursday night.) Here’s what I’ve got for you this week…


What’s the difference between high fantasy and epic fantasy? Here’s one well-reasoned argument. And here’s another one based on the level of the stakes.

general geekery

Ever wondered what Harry Potter would look like as a girl? Now you can find out: Genderswapped Harry Potter characters.


When I am 101 years old, I want to be like this paragliding great-grandmother.

Domythic Bliss had a wonderful series last week looking at mobile houses: Roma-inspired wagons, trucks, boats, and buses.

For writers (and interested third parties)

Kristen Lamb debunks the myth that Real Writers never struggle.

Ollin Morales writes about how chasing your writing dreams may not be enough — you also have to chase your other dreams.

If you’ve been reading too many blogs or books on writing craft and tearing your hair out because you don’t write like that, Tahereh Mafi has an awesome post on how there is no right way to write. She also talks with beautiful openness about being a debut novelist (a.k.a. a Real Writer), how it changes you and how it doesn’t.

(Can you tell the space I’m in with my writing this week?)

That’s all for now, folks. Happy Friday!

Tag, Who’s Next?

Via Turtleduck Press author KD Sarge, here’s a meme that looked like fun.

So the way it works: answer the questions, come up with eleven of my own, and tag more people to keep the game going. Sort of a chain letter but better.

Here we go…

1.) Of your characters, who would you most like to have as a real-life friend?

Kitty from the historical paranormal novel. She’s smart and bookish and clever-tongued, and she’s not afraid to buck tradition.

Of the stories you can actually read, I’d have to pick Taqulittuq from my short story in Winter’s Night. Facing grief and fear, she digs deep to find courage.

2.) Which would you not want to be around anywhere but in the pages of a book?

Sefu, a villain from my fantasy series. He’s frighteningly stoic and self-possessed, and worse, he’s smarter than my heroine and outmaneuvers her without even trying.

3.) When a song bowls you over and you have to hear it again and again, what is probably the reason? (Great voice, real emotion, clever lyrics, et cetera)

It’s all about the voice. I’ll fall in love with voices even when I can’t understand the words. Case in point: the Corsican a cappella group Barbara Furtuna. Swoon.

4.) Of everywhere you’ve been, where was your favorite place to be? (Home is a perfectly acceptable answer!)

A little valley in Norway at the end of a steep-walled fjord, with the valley rising steeply up to mountain peaks on both sides. I’ll have to write about my travels in future posts, assuming there’s interest.

5.) Where do you want most to go?

Um…besides everywhere? Nepal, India, Greece, Italy, the Arctic…yeah.

6.) What is the meaning of life? (okay, okay–YOUR life.) What do you think your life is about?

Making the world a little bit better. One of the ways I do that (or try, at least) is through writing. If I can inspire, or give courage, or comfort, or move a reader, I’ve succeeded. Then I try to do it again. 😉

7.) What’s the best thing about what you do for a living?

I get to work with words. It’s not writing fiction, but editing non-fiction. There’s something very satisfying about solving a thorny puzzle and making something clearer for the reader’s benefit.

8.) What do you do when you need inspiration?

Depends. If I’m stuck on a particular plot point, I’ll write endless brainstorming notes. If I’m feeling uninspired generally, I’ll either set a timer and stare at the file until the timer goes off, or else fill up the creative well by going elsewhere (a book, Pinterest, my knitting, whatever).

9.) When you need some time for you, where do you go?

This is a bit sad, but usually the Internet. I’ve also found solo walks to be good for the soul.

10.) Plotter or pantser?

I’m a plotser. I like to leave plenty of room to explore, but I plan out character backstories and the broad structure of the acts. (Acts are the most brilliant invention ever, by the way. Except maybe a recent discovery via Jennifer Crusie: scene sequences.)

11.) To close with a (fairly) easy one–talk about a book. Any book. :)

Wait, that was supposed to be the easy one? This is getting long, so I’ll just refer you to my nostalgia post about Madeleine L’Engle instead. Ha.


There! Hope you enjoyed that and learned something about me. For another writer’s answers to the same questions, see fellow Turtleduck Press author Kit Campbell’s blog.

To pass on the meme, I shall tag Kat Anthony and and K.A. Levingston. Because I’m a nice person, there’s no pressure to complete the meme! If you’re not Kat or K.A. but you’d like to do the meme anyway, leave a comment and I’ll add a link to your responses.

And now my questions:

1. Where do you get your ideas from? 😛

2. If you have some terrible old stories that will never see the light of day, which one do you still have a soft spot for?

3. Where in the world would you live if you could live anywhere?

4. Where would you love to visit, but not live?

5. What’s the most awe-inspiring moment you’ve had (that you’re willing to share)?

6. Who’s your captain — Kirk, Picard, Captain Jack from Torchwood, Jack Sparrow, Malcolm Reynolds, other?

7. Which author’s universe would you love to write in if you could?

8.What was your gateway drug into your genre of choice?

9. What’s your favourite hobby, creative or otherwise, when you’re not writing?

10. Are you a morning person or an evening person?

11. What was the most memorable meal you’ve ever had?

Going Meta: The Hunger Games

The Hunger Games cover

The stunning book cover

As you have no doubt heard, the film version of The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins comes out this week. Even if you haven’t read it, you’ve likely seen the magazine covers or the ad campaign.

And that’s where things get weird. (Or more meta, as the case may be.)

Quick recap: the premise is that in a future version of the United States, teenagers are chosen to fight each other to the death in a televised reality show. Think Survivor, except more so.

Throughout the book, we’re continually reminded of the reality show aspect. (Minor spoilers follow.) Before the games start, Katniss gets dolled up to present the maximum possible spectacle. When she’s in the arena, her thoughts keep returning to the viewers who are watching this brutal show — what they must be thinking, how they’re reacting to events. And so on.

When the book was turned into a movie, we-the-readers suddenly became we-the-viewers. We’ve been placed into the position of the voyeuristic, bloodthirsty hedonists who are (metaphorically) munching popcorn as they watch teenagers thrown into an arena to die. Our gaze forcibly becomes their gaze.

People cover for The Hunger Games

Are we looking at Katniss or Jennifer Lawrence?

The moment when I knew I’d stepped through the looking glass was when I discovered the existence of Hunger Games nail polish.

There’s official merchandise from CafePress, including T-shirts, water bottles, and 50’s-style propaganda.

There’s unofficial merchandise from Etsy, including jewellery and other wearable stuff (WARNING: spoilers for later books in the trilogy).

There are self-referential animated advertising posters (get Cinna’s gold eyeliner!).

You get the idea. The more I discover, the weirder it feels.

On the other hand…a book is not just a book. It’s an action-adventure story with plenty of drama and heartache, but it’s also a critique of our reality-show culture. Survivor and Extreme Makeover: Home Edition were one thing, but now we’re watching Toddlers in Tiaras and Jon & Kate Plus 8 — freak shows, really — and tuning in to the lives of rich people who are famous for nothing more than being famous. When people are inventing things like soccer with tasers, suddenly the Hunger Games don’t seem so unlikely.

If you look at it that way, the fact that the Hunger Games nail polish makes me uncomfortable is actually a good thing. It reminds us that we’re viewers too. So when Katniss looks at the cameras and her face fills the screen, she really is looking at us.

Weekly Roundup

Welcome to Friday, everybody!

Book News

This week I’ve been reading a discussion around female authors, particularly in SF&F — how they don’t get talked about as often as men, or reviewed as often. Cheryl Morgan blogs about the (lack of) teaching of women writers in school. If this makes you angry, you might be interested in Ian Sales’s round-up of SF novels that feature only female protagonists (lots more suggestions in the comments).

General Geekery and Science

Are you Team Gale or Team Peeta? How about Team Katniss?

The intersection of geekiness and crafting is a thing that fascinates me. Here, for example, are Mario Brothers quilts:

Inspiration: Home Edition

If you’re looking for a hotel that makes you think of magic, check out these domythic getaways.

Did your grandmother own doilies? Mine did. Appreciating the needlework of our grandmothers (with photos of beautiful lacework).


Leo Babauta talks about breaking information addiction and other bad habits.

Justine Musk has more to say on changing habits.

For Writers (And Interested Third Parties)

Cora Ramos reminds us about voice and the inner child.

Kill your darlings: What writing taught me about homemaking. (If you like this post, you might also like How writing is like knitting — and why that matters, a post I wrote last year on the Turtleduck Press blog.)

That’s all for this week. Happy Pi Day, Happy St. Patrick’s Day, and beware the Ides of March. On Monday I’ll be writing about The Hunger Games in anticipation of the film release. Hope to see you back here then!